Experts Demand to Know Why Findings into 48 Cases of Harm and Death of Children in Care Will Go Unpublished
The decision not to publish a report that includes incidents of children in care dying in unregulated accommodation has caused concern
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A report into 48 incidents in which children in care died or were seriously harmed will not be published by the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel, Byline Times can reveal.
The decision not to publish was discussed in correspondence seen by Byline Times – written just days after the publication of an independent review into children’s social care by Josh MacAlister, and a national review by the panel into the horrific murders of Star Hobson and Arthur Labinjo-Hughes.
The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel is an independent group that commissions reviews into serious child safeguarding cases.
A total of 29 children aged 16 and 17 died while living in unregulated accommodation between 2016 and 2021. A further 17 incidents of children dying or enduring serious harm occurred in 2021 and 22.
Thirty organisations had requested that its findings on the 48 incidents be put in the public domain. But the panel said it will not do so.
In a letter to Annie Hudson, the panel’s chair, the charity Article 39 – which campaigns to defend the rights of children in care – argued that “it is imperative that we collectively learn from incidents where highly vulnerable children have suffered grave harms” so that the findings can “contribute to policy development around the children’s care system”.
In response, Hudson said this was not possible because the work’s “primary purpose was to inform the panel’s overall knowledge of incidents – the learning from which has been shared – and the work was not carried out with publication in mind”.
The panel does not always publish its work, but given the seriousness of these cases, the organisations felt that on this occasion it should have been made public.
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Hudson said some of the 48 incidents would have been reviewed locally and that information from those local reviews would be made public. No published list of these reviews has yet appeared.
Carolyne Willow, director of Article 39, told Byline Times: “It cannot be right that the national child safeguarding body and the Department for Education are sitting on a report which analyses the deaths and serious harms suffered by children in the care of the state when Government policy quite rightly expects transparency and collective learning when highly vulnerable children are not protected within their families.”
Carole Littlechild, chair of Nagalro – the professional association for family court advisors, children’s guardians and independent social workers – said: “It is an extraordinary indictment on current policy that it should be regarded in any way acceptable for the national statutory body for child safeguarding to keep back vital information about children of 16 and 17 who die or who are seriously harmed whilst in local authority care.”
However, a spokesperson for the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel said that “the headline findings were shared in our latest annual report and help to inform our overarching recommendations about how to improve the safeguarding system”.
Children Left Without Care
Details of the 29 deaths remain shrouded in secrecy. Last October, in response to a written question by Labour MP Sarah Champion, Children’s Minister Will Quince did not name the local authorities responsible for the children, claiming that to do so would violate confidentiality.
However, the same concern does not seem to apply to children who have died at home – and it is this disparity that concerns Article 39 and other organisations.
“All children have the same right to protection and it’s simply unacceptable that there is public and parliamentary scrutiny when children die at the hands of their parents and carers in the community, but to then have secrecy when it comes to children in care,” Carolyne Willow told this newspaper.
Unregulated accommodation is typical housing children in care are placed in over the age of 16. It is designed to help them live more independently but has been much criticised.
In her 2020 report, former Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield revealed how vulnerable children were often left to fend for themselves in homes unfit for human habitation.
Last year, the Government introduced a ban on housing children under 16 from being placed in unregulated accommodation. Article 39 is legally challenging the decision not to include older children in the ban, and awaits news on whether its case will be heard in the Court of Appeal.
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The decision by the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel not to publish its findings represents a missed opportunity, according to critics.
“To withhold such crucial detail when policy about unregulated placements for that age group of children was being developed betrays both those children and future children who should be able to rely on state protection and safe care,” said Carole Littlechild.
Rebekah Pierre, a care-experienced social worker, explained how her concerns stem from “my experience as a social worker, but also my lived experience of unregulated accommodation”.
“I will carry the physical and emotional scars of this time forever,” she told Byline Times. “Children in these placements are highly vulnerable, disproportionately black and minoritised, and resourceless. Surely these are the very children for whom we should be vociferously protecting – and that starts with laying bare all that must change.”
The failure to publish the findings comes as the BBC revealed patterns of abuse, assaults and big profits in the children’s social care sector.
Terry Galloway, who runs accommodation for adults who were in care as children and was himself in care as a child, said: “I was taken into care and abused, my sister too. For her it was too much, she is now dead, murdered because she was vulnerable. If we don’t die in care, then we die later [but] much earlier than others.
“How can social care and the courts take us from our parents, then allow things to be done to us that that they warned our parents would do? I wish the panel had shared the information so that we can put things right, together.”